30 August 2011


Two years ago, the Scottish Government released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, on grounds of ill health. He returned to Libya to a hero's welcome.

Following the revolt against the Gaddafi regime, al-Megrahi's family have been unable to give him the necessary cancer medication and have pleaded with the Scottish Government to provide it.

My first six responses to this request are, uncharacteristically I feel, "Fuck him".

That the family have the balls to request that the country that suffered most at his hands - after the US - prolong his life, after he ended so many, feels like a massive boot to Scotland's balls.

My seventh thought is that since we released him from prisoner on medical grounds, and continue to monitor him, we retain some duty of care. And since there were doubts around some of the evidence in his trial, it's possible he's just some terminal cancer sufferer who got fucked over, in more ways than one.

All that said, and while it grates against my usual moderate stance, I'm going with Response 1: "Fuck him and his balls".

23 August 2011

Creating the Universe with Unix Commands

# In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
> su
Password: jehovah
> mkdir heaven earth

# And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.
> mkdir light

# And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
> cp light Day
> mv light Night

# A
nd God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
> mkdir waters firmament waters
mkdir: cannot create directory 'waters': File exists

# And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
> mv firmament heaven

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth...
> mkdir earth

.. and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good
> mv waters seas

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
> cd earth
> mkdir grass seed fruit_tree

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years
> cd ../firmament
gsh: cd: ../firmament: No such file or directory
> cd ../heaven
> mkdir lights

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also
> cd lights
> mkdir sun moon stars

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven
> cd ../waters
> mkdir creatures
> cd ../heaven
> mkdir fowl

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good
> cd ../waters/creatures
> mkdir whales

# And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth
> nice whales
nice: whales: Permission denied

# And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so
> cd ../../earth
> mkdir creatures
> cd creatures
> mkdir cattle

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth
> mkdir man
> groupadd mankind
> useradd man -G mankind -m /earth
> cd /earth
> chown -rf man:mankind *
> chmod -r 777 man
:mankind *
> cd /heaven
> chown -rf man:mankind *
> chmod -r 777 man:mankind *
> cd /waters
> chown -rf man:mankind *
> chmod -r 777 man:mankind *

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them
> useradd woman -G mankind -m /earth

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth
> nice man
What manual page do you want?
> nice woman
nice: woman: Permission denied

09 August 2011

The Great British Earthquake

The 2011 earthquake struck in the middle of a sultry English summer afternoon, its epicentre the borough of Tottenham in North London. Within hours, the resultant aftershocks had spread to many other areas of the city and, over the next few days, to other English cities.

This earthquake, however, was not geological; it was social. The trigger was the shooting by Police of Tottenham man Mark Duggan on Thursday, 4th August 2011. While the trigger was at the Police-Public Tension point of the fault, there are many asperities along the social faultline through British society.

The earthquake allowed the release of pressure that built up at all the other points of tension as well; Haves vs Have Nots, The Nanny State, the list goes on. However, while the main shock was around Police-Public Tension, the main cause of the ensuing aftershocks - rioting - appear to be centered around the fiscal gap between the Haves and the Have Nots, something that has been given media coverage in the US in light of their current financial crisis, but which has been largely ignored in the UK.

To quote / paraphrase Joe Friday in Dragnet: "There are those that have it, and those that want it. Those who have it, flaunt it, no matter how they got it. Those who want it can get it by attempting to better themselves in a supportive society cheering them on. Or they can take it the easy way..."

This is what we're seeing. The looters are taking things they feel they cannot get legally. They are effectively bootstrapping themselves financially towards the rest of society; the Haves. Leaving the facts that it's illegal and ruins lives aside for a moment, one could argue that looting is an ultimately stabilising factor in situations like this. As the looters become the Haves, they then become invested in stability and calm, so that they may benefit from their ill-gotten gains. If a non-uniform distribution of wealth is [a|the] cause, then a redistribution of wealth, legal or otherwise, is inherently stabilising.

Given a destabilising event, those with more to gain than to lose will seize the opportunity. People have to be invested in the success of society in order for that society to survive. To quote from the movies again, in this case Xander Cage from xXx, "if you're gonna ask someone to save the world, you'd better make sure they like it the way it is". The longer society fails to address the needs of everyone, then the greater the tensions and the greater the likelihood of seismic events like these.

But what are the causes of these tensions? As with most things that defy digestible media soundbites, they are legion and exceedingly complex. Let's concentrate of two areas; 1. Why did it start? and 2. Why did it expand?

Now, writing this as I do from my resolutely white, middle-class haven in the currently riot-free north of the British Isles, I do not pretend to be anything approaching an expert on the contributory factors, nor am I a psychologist. All this probably means I should keep my trap shut and my opinions to myself. But that's what this blog is: me keeping my opinions to myself, safe in the knowledge that no-one will read them but me.

So, the trigger to this situation appears to be tensions between Police and 'minority' sections of London's populace. Interviews with local people suggest that Police intrusion into their lives is constant and disrespectful, fostering a distinct 'us-and-them' attitude. In the defence of the Police, the fact that black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person is bourne of the amount of concealed weapons discovered in these searches.

Leaving the Police's attitude aside for another post, what is it that causes these people to carry concealed weapons? One option is that they believe that, generally speaking, society does not look after them, so they have to look after themselves. They band into gangs to gain a sense of belonging, importance and power that society, in it's current state, does not afford them.

The other option is that it gives them a sense of power, power that society for the most part denies them, whether that's the power to elect a representative that will represent them, or the power to determine the course of their own lives through education and employment. In the absence of this sense of empowerment within society, I can understand the attraction to step outside it.

So, the underlying "why" of the current situation is the same as it has always been. At every stage of human development and society, there have been elements of the population that are unable to make best use of the current nature of society, and so find themselves marginalised.

The exacerbating factor to all this is that our society has evolved faster than human nature. Underlying our more developed notions are those baser instincts geared towards self preservation. In our modern society, where people are living in ever larger groups and so would benefit from a more collective approach, these base instincts are anathema to the common good.

This selfish nature, allied with the ability - or lack thereof - to benefit from society, is what drives the wedge between the Haves and Have Nots.

And therein lies the answer to "Why did it expand?". Any breakdown in society allows those marginalised by that society their greatest opportunity for gain.

So, what may have started due to perceived Police brutality, and was hijacked by those looking for personal profit, will naturally peter out. What happens then will
determine when the next earthquake will strike.

David Cameron has said that the looters will "feel the full force of the law". This feels like an empty threat, for the following reasons;
1. given the number of looters and rioters, there is no way for The Law to catch and prosecute them all; the impunity of numbers.
2. if they do get them to court, proving that a. it was them and b. they did it maliciously, rather than simply getting swept up in the mob, will be next to impossible. Basically, all that will happen is that the courts will be clogged for years and very few sentences will be handed out.
3. it is difficult to threaten those who have nothing. The only thing you can remove is their liberty, and the jails are already full. Giving someone with nothing a fine that they can't pay achieves nothing other than to incentivise more misdeeds.

29 June 2011

People Ruin Ideas, or Why We Can't Have Nice Things

The stated aim of The Palace is "to champion freedom and justice", blah, blah, something, something, dark side, etcetera. Where I get my personal kicks is trying to understand the Universe. It is both annoying and satisfying when you discover that someone has already encapsulated the truth of the point towards which you are struggling, in an infinitely more succinct and pithy statement than you.

To whit; Eleanor Roosevelt posited that "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."1

I like this quote, not because it is or isn't true - who's to say? - but because it supports my world view, and there's nothing more conforting than having ones world view validated.

Taking the statement as read for a moment, it does nicely explain something that has resulted in several aborted posts over the years; people ruin ideas.

Exhibit A: Football

Now, the core nature, the idea of Association Football is delightfully simple. A competitive game, played fairly between two teams comprising individuals of enormous skill, is one of the finest spectacles humans have ever and will ever produce. It's simplicity and attraction are what make it the most played2 and most watched sport on the planet.

Over the years, the idea has been corrupted by small minds. The greed of commercialism has infected almost every arena in which "the beautiful game" is played. The focus these days is on the people that inhabit football; the players, the managers, the agents, the leaders of the associations, even the fans. The core idea is lost in the melee of small minds shouting over each other.

Exhibit B: Politics

A well-flogged horse on these pages, Politics. Again, at it's core, Politics is a fantastic idea. Elect representatives, chosen from the people, to speak for the people, to work together for the greater good.

None of which sounds familiar, does it? As with football, we're obsessed with the politicians themselves, rather than that which is important; policies, the core ideas designed to improve life. Policies take a back seat to the bickering of the tiny minds who spend years to become politicians and who then spend their tenure arguing with each other.

The very word, whose root words clearly define it's meaning, has become it's own antonym. Again, small minds have so corrupted the original idea, it makes it so hard to see the gleam of the idea through the layers of small mindedness that encrust it.

Exhibit C: Celebrity

The very core of Eleanor's statement. Elevate certain people to the point where other people want to discuss them, not because of anything worthwhile - like an original idea, or even their participation in a noteworthy event - but purely because society has determined that these people are worthy of discussion.

Looking at the nature of celebrity through my Monocle of Cynicism, it is not hard to see that there is money to be made in cultivating small minds. Simon Cowell, for example, has become fabulously rich by feeding the small minds with (usually) even smaller minds to discuss; fodder for the millions of Huxley's Gammas that make up a large chunk of our population.

And finally, The Big One...

Exhibit D: Religion

At it's core, Religion has some fantastic ideas. Thou shalt not Kill. I can get behind that one 100%. Thou shalt not steal. Ditto.

Again, over the years, small minds have got the ideas out of the box and mussed them up with their grubby fingers. Religion, at a grassroots level, is probably still focussed around ideas, rather than events or people, Jesus / Mohammed / etc notwithstanding.

But over the centuries, the core ideas of Religion have been corrupted by small minds bent on furthering their own interests to the point that, to many, Religion has become a sickness, a force for evil rather than for good.

The prosecution rests.

Each of the cases cited above is a hostage situation. The original idea is held captive at the core of the towering eyesore that small minds have constructed about it over the years. The idea is rendered powerless, capable only of calling faintly through the cell bars. And only those who are not distracted by the din of smaller minds loudly discussing events and people take the time to listen.

There is nothing so rare, so valuable, and so fragile, as an idea. And Nothing so careless, so selfish, and so destructive, as people.

And that's why we can't have anything nice.

1 It occurs that I am quoting a people here, thereby confirming my tiny mind and therefore the suspicions of my RocketBootMum and lots of baffled specialists over the years.
1 "played by over 250 million players in over 200 countries, making it the world's most popular sport".

And don't say it's "fascinating"...

Aren't brains brilliant? As well as doing all the useful stuff like adding up and taking mental notes and making Thursday afternoons hilarious, it also quietly does lots of little backgrounds tasks that aren't immediately obvious to you.

For example, you could be driving around the town where you live, like you do every day of life and, for some reason, you end up taking a different route and, just like a Japanese car issues a baleful "bong" when you leave your lights on, your brain raises a little "You've never done that before." flag.

Now, quite why it keeps track of everywhere you've been and the route you took, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's some hunter-gatherer technique to identify places where we haven't killed / eaten everything yet. Who knows.

Another weirdness you can expose is to probe the ephemeral nature of meaning. That sounds very grandiose, but really all I mean is that you make a word stop meaning anything. Observe.

If you take a word out of it's context, isolate and repeat it, it very quickly rots into its phonetic constituents, losing all meaning in the process.

I watched a video on YouTube the other day which was a compilation of Spock saying "fascinating" over and over again. It very quickly stops being Spock repeating his favourite word and becomes Spock making the same slightly odd noise over and over again.

It's not fascinating. But it is ...... interesting.

EDIT: I have since learned that this phenomena is called Semantic Satiation. So now we know.

03 May 2011

Al Your Qaeda Are Belong To US!

In 2001, war was beginning...

What happen? Someone set up us the bomb!

How are you gentlemen? All your base are belong to us. You are on the way to destruction

Take off every ZIG!

For great justice!

02 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Yawn.

Despite the hilarious "typo" on Faux News (stay classy, Fox), it was correctly reported elsewhere (literally, everywhere else) that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a raid on a compound in Abbottabad1, Pakistan.

But will it matter? Has it, as someone on Twitter suggested, been worth the two wars, ten years and over a trillion dollars to kill one man? The spontaneous crowds outside the Whitehouse chanting "USA, USA" and singing "We are the champions" would suggest that action was not entirely without value.

Much as I would like to believe that it was worth it, I fear I will be disappointed. Were Al-Quaeda to assassinate Obama, would the US cease attacks on terrorist organisations, or adopt a less interventionist foreign policy? I think we know the answer.

It is doubtless cathartic to an injured US that the man named as their Most Wanted, the embodiment of their Terror, is no more. That bin Laden's death may not alter in any real way the level of global terrorism, or the perceived threat to the US, is secondary, at least for the moment.

Do we suppose that Al-Quaeda consists entirely of mangalores who will cease the fight against the imperialist agressors now that their organisation has been decapitated? If we assume that terror attacks on the US are as a result of US foreign policy, then the removal of a single man by the US in no way diminishes that threat. If anything, it will strengthen resolve in the caves of Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The core texts of both Christianity and Islam have the principle of "an eye for an eye", and if the last decade has taught us anything, it's that the US and Al-Quaeda take the Word of God very seriously, especially when it can be shown to provide approval for the machinations of men. The cultures of both sides demand retribution, so this is but the latest battle in war with no end.

While this is a huge political victory - that may help propel Obama to a second term - and one that soothes old wounds, it remains to be seen if it affects Global Terror in any way.

1 Anyone else hope there's a Costello-abad?

09 April 2011

Alternative Vote isn't much of an alternative

So, apparently part of the May 5th 2011 elections is a referendum on the process by which General Elections are decided. This news laregly passed me by in the last few weeks, although I had seen references to "AV" but was not engaged enough to find out what it was.

Currently, British politics uses the "first past the post" electoral system, whereby the election is won "by the candidate(s) with the most votes. The winning candidate does not necessarily receive a majority of all votes cast"1.

The proposed new system is called "Alternative Vote" (or "Instant Runoff voting", which immediately makes me think of drainage), whereby "voters rank candidates in order of preference, and their votes are initially allocated to their first choice candidate. If after this initial count no candidate has a majority of votes cast, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and votes for that candidate are redistributed according to the voters' second preferences. This process continues until one candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, upon which they are declared the winner".

Wikipedia goes on to state that "Instant runoff voting is used to elect members of the Australian House of Representatives, the President of Ireland, the national parliament of Papua New Guinea, and the Fijian House of Representatives. It is also used to elect hereditary peers to the British House of Lords".

Now, with all due respect to those august bodies, that the highest praise of the system is that it is used to elect the Fijian House of Representatives, does not fill me with hope.

Now, some cursory thought leads me to the conclusion that AV sounds better than FPTP (it's shorter, for a start), but we're still deciding how best to choose weevils here. Sorry, that's a movie reference joke; watch Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In short, how excited should I be expected to get in deciding how to decide on which steaming pile of shit gets to run the country (into the ground)?

Don't get me wrong; I think it's very nice of them to let "The people" decide on how they choose their shit in future. But, when all the votes are counted, we're still pinning the winner's rosette on a pile of coiled, steaming, brown shit.

So, if you want to get me excited, let's not have a popularity contest to decide the prettiest arrangement of outdoor seating on the largest luxury liner of the age, and instead spend a little more time plugging the fucking hole below the waterline.

1 For the first time ever, Wikipedia confused me here. I think because it's about politics and therefore is inherently nonsense.

03 February 2011

The Problem with the World

I have just been on holiday for a couple of weeks, which has unfortunately necessitated my spending more time in proximity to The Great Unwashed than I usually prefer. I have no problem fighting for justice and righteousness on their behalf, I just don't want to have to be around them that much. Between choking down waves of nausea, I noticed something about people that has eluded me these last few years.

People are really not very good at being alive.

People's lives, comprising mainly the working week and the associated shenanigans of clothes buying and the purchasing of comestibles, has equipped them superbly for their Life, which entails performing the same tasks endlessly without any need to engage their brain. People are robots.

Take basic perambulation. The mechanics of walking, once mastered at an early age, pass into the realm of unconscious competence; the robots can walk without worrying about which actuator to contract next. Given this surfeit of computational bandwidth, once would logically assume that the robots would dedicate some of that blistering capacity to basic time / space calculations and collision avoidance. Alas, no.

Attempting to navigate a mall at any time other than midnight, at any speed swifter than snail, is a exercise in futility1. The primary directive of the robots is to consume, a directive that drains all available clock cycles from their central processing units.

Now, here in the Palace, being proud swallowers of our own special Red Pill - it's more of a scarlety-crimson, really - are able to view this robotised civilisation from the outside. What concerns me is that I'm starting to see what all the "bad" guys in movies have been saying all these years.

Agent Smith was right; humans are a virus; specifically, a self-inhibiting virus, albeit not a very good one. We can take a perfectly functional system and converting it into a shambolic nonsense.

Introduce a single human into an otherwise balanced environment and within a week, there will be one-way systems, government bureaucracies and forms in triplicate, and the human will be sitting on a patch of bare earth, staring vacantly into space, completely unable to do anything, due to the lack of the correct permit.

1 BoosterBoy and I have invented what we hope will become an Olympic demonstration sport, that of Mall Running. The name has yet to be finalised, but it amalgamates the essences of parkour, speed walking and a flagrant disregard for the young, elderly or infirm. The aim is to navigate a mall at maximum speed. We have developed special spectacles that filter out anything beige, therefore enabling the Mallrunner to utilise "spaces" that may otherwise not appear.